“It’s not the writing part that’s hard. What’s hard is sitting down to write.” the WAR of ART by Steven Pressfield

Resistance is the word Pressfield uses to describe the avoidance of writing. Writers love to write. I love to write. But I frequently fight the idea of walking to my desk and picking up a pen. (Or turning on the computer.)

This surprises me. The primary emotion I feel when writing is JOY. Yes, with capital letters. Why would I avoid joy? For me it’s connected to the dark side of creative work. That is, the WORK side of creativity.

  • Writing? No problem. Finished version one of the manuscript over a year ago.
  • Revising? No problem. My writing group and other readers gave valuable input.
  • Editing? No problem. Lots of lists of what to look for are available for all genres. Checked the plot structure, character development, believability of dialogue, grammar, spelling, length, and more. (Yes, there is always more.)
  • More revising? No problem. Professional input received at conferences and in classes led to minor changes and sharpened the content.

So why has it taken so long to finish? Along the way readers had asked for a stronger roll for one of the characters. And the most recent reviewer asked for the same adjustment. I increased his part a bit, but felt he would alter the narrative too much if I gave him more space.

Should I call it done or should I make this change? Making him a main character would require a major rewrite. Would the story change too much? Resistance persisted. I argued with myself about “artistic integrity”. My idea vs. that of readers. How many revisions are enough?

With a new year and a longing to spend time creating a second story, I faced my dilemma: I liked the presence of this character. Adding him would improve the book. The problem was the work. It would mean re-rewriting, and I did NOT want to mess with this project any longer.

As soon as I admitted improvement was possible, the resistance vanished. Instead, I was able to lose myself in the magic of the story and the appeal of the enhanced character.

The story is done, for the 27th time (who’s counting?) I’m ready to write queries and pitches with confidence that the manuscript is ready. Hooray!

Island Life: Orca Whales

When you live on an island in Washington State you are sustained by the sea.

Whidbey is a long, narrow island at the northern end of Puget Sound in the middle of the Salish Sea. As you drive from one end to the other you see farms, small towns, forests and water. Always water.

Seagulls thrive here. They bob along the shore diving for fish. They roost on power poles, roofs, boats, and an occasional car. Their squawks and shrieks fill the air as they scavenge and play.

A wide range of sea life shares itself with islanders. Unfortunately, not all of it is thriving.

Orca whales that reside in Puget Sound are in crisis. Southern residents number less than 80. Some years there are no new calves and other years, like 2018, calves are born, but don’t live. And although whales are long-lived there have been deaths of older residents too.

This month two whales show serious signs of starvation and aren’t expected to live much longer without human interventions. Rescue plans and the teams ready to carry them out were delayed by the government shutdown. (Seattle Times Jan. 18, 2019)

A long list of problems represent the complex issues related to the health of local whales and of the environment in general. For Orcas a lack of food, toxins dumped in the sea, noise from oil tankers and navy jets, and signs of collapse within the marine ecosystem have created the current crisis.

On Whidbey, we follow sightings of the Orca and are thrilled to watch them from bluffs and beaches as they feed and play. We are nurtured by the presence of these giants. Many islanders and mainlanders have committed to helping the whales by lobbying politicians, writing letters and articles, and by living with less detrimental impact.

Orca whales in the southern pod are in crisis. Time to take care of our neighbors.

Bees as Bait

“Something flies too close to my ear. For a moment, its buzz is the only noise in my world.” The Hour of the Bees by Lindsay Eager

The first two sentences of The Hour of the Bees alert us to the importance of the buzzing insects. Bees appear in the title and the main character hears only their whirring as the story begins. All that exists are the bees. All that matters are the bees.

10 pages. In my last post I said I would be re-reading the openings of some favorite MG books. As I dissected the “starters” in this novel I was intrigued. We read about a family in distress. They have left home, friends, work and all normalcy for the summer. A family crisis pulls them to a dying ranch in a drought plagued landscape.

The sheep ranch has only a dozen sheep, the grass is crunchy and brown and the grandfather whom the children have never met has dementia. Family tensions are hinted at, conversation skitters past a missing grandmother and unwanted change seems unavoidable.

But the bees whisper the possibility of something else. Of hope. Of rain instead of drought.

There are no big action sequences, no swordplay or blood. There are no monsters, breakups, new kids at school or bullies. These 10 pages introduce us to a family and makes us curious about their fate. Their every-day-ness connects us to them. Then the bees fly past. Only one person sees or hears them. Is it an illusion brought on by the drought? Or is there much more to the story and the bees will take us there?

The first 10 pages* for The Hour of the Bees set the stage for a great read. As we continue through the novel we learn of the extent of the drought both for the land and in the family. Plots and subplots, stories within stories, increase the tension and make the book impossible to put down.

The Bees are the bait that set the hook to catch readers. We are then pulled into a rich and satisfying story.

This is a must read MG novel. This island reader gives it 5 sea stars.

*(In my version of the text Chapter 1 is 18 pages long, but I’m counting it as the basic 10 page introduction that would be sent to agents.)

10 Pages

After working on a novel for a month (NaNoWriMo), a year or 7 years, it all comes down to 10 pages.

It may not seem fair. It may not seem possible. But as my brother says, “It is what it is.”

Literary agents and publishers are overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of writers and their manuscripts. So for newbies with no established street cred in society ie., fame, it’s all about 10 pages. The first 10 of your manuscript.

For writers of middle grade fiction the packet you send to find an agent usually includes a query letter and the first pages of your book. Those pages need to introduce your main characters to agents and future readers in a way that makes them want more, lots more. They need to care about your protagonists and the difficulties they face. You need to set the hook quickly and reel in your audience. Good story tellers have always done this and now its a 10 page appetizer that makes you hungry for the entire meal. 

Mine are ready to go and I’ll send them out after the holidays. Between now and then I’ll review those first 10 pages again.

Before the last review I’m reading a stack of first chapters. I like to study favorites to learn how to write better. I’ll re-read Greenglass House, The Matchstick Castle, Someday Birds and others. Then I’ll check my ten. They’ve already been edited and reviewed, but I want to be sure the magic is still shimmering in each word.

What books would you read to learn about first pages? What story hooked you right away and still pulls you back to enjoy more than once?  

Welcome to Writing Whidbey

I’ve been thinking about bees.

In The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd, we see the bees flying for joy in Lily’s bedroom. They shine in the dark and fly “for the feel of the wind”. Those bees aren’t working, they’re soaring just for the pure joy of it.

That’s what I feel when I’m writing. Pure joy.

I’d like to share the fun with you. I’m just tidying up a middle grade adventure and there are additional stories in the works. So I’ll write about my writing.

I’ll also be learning about the business end of writing. That means professional groups, conferences, cover letters and first chapters, finding the right agent and working to make the book a success. Let me share my experiences with you and you can join in with questions and tales of your own.

As the blog develops I’ll include reviews of books that I dive into. Books about how to write, books about the business end of a novel, books that are fun to read and that have great form as well.

Since I live on an island that nurtures stories there will be articles about it as well.

Welcome to Writing Whidbey. I’m ready to fly are you?